Second-hand smoke, also known as passive smoke or involuntary smoking, is a serious health threat that claims thousands of lives every year. The death toll includes many people who have never smoked a cigarette in their entire lives.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control), says that second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are highly toxic and/or irritating to the lungs. At least 50 chemicals in second-hand smoke are known carcinogens.
There are two types of second-hand smoke. Smoke exhaled into the air by smokers is “mainstream” smoke, while smoke from the burning tip of a cigarette, pipe or cigar is known as “sidestream” smoke. If you’re in the same area as a smoker, you’re exposed to both types.
Second-hand smoke is difficult to get rid of. According to the NHS (National Health Service), smoke can remain in the air for more than two hours, even if you can’t smell it, and even if you open a window to dissipate the smoke.
Residual tobacco smoke, also known as “third-hand smoke,” can even remain on surfaces of furniture or in dust, which is subsequently inhaled long after the smoker has left the area.
The Many Dangers of Second-Hand Smoke
The American Cancer Society says there is absolutely no safe level of second-hand smoke, and even a very small amount can make you sick. Here are a few of the possible effects of second-hand smoke:
- Exposure to second-hand smoke interferes with healthy operation of nearly every organ in the body.
- People exposed to second-hand smoke have an increased risk of various types of cancer, including lung, bladder, rectum, breast, stomach, throat, voice box and nasal passages.
- Medical researchers think second-hand smoke may also be linked to leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors and liver cancer.
- Exposure to second hand smoke means a higher incidence of respiratory problems, including asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis.
- Non-smokers regularly exposed to second-hand smoke have a 25 to 30 percent higher chance of developing heart disease.
- Second-hand smoke increases the risk of stroke by 20 to 30 percent.
- Second hand smoke is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Mothers who smoke are more than twice as likely as non-smokers to lose their babies to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
- Infants born to smokers are also more likely to have low birth weight.
- Children exposed to second-hand smoke get more ear infections and are more prone to chronic cough and frequent colds.
- Children are also more likely to develop asthma. They are frequently hospitalized for pneumonia, bronchitis or other respiratory illnesses.
- Middle ear infections, sometimes severe enough to result in hearing loss, are frequently attributed to second-hand smoke.